Outstanding Recordings of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin

October 10, 2006 at 03:34 AM · I'm a guitarist. I fell in love with and studied the violin for a short period of time, but, alas, the guitar is a jealous mistress. I still worship the violin from afar, though.

That said; I'm hoping to get some direction in finding a new interpretation/performer of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin. These are some of my favorite pieces, ever, and I've been listening to the Scheryng recording on Odyssey for a long time. It's, by far, my favorite...even though I enjoy the Milstein and Fournier interpretations, as well. I've been looking for the Shumsky recording, but had no luck, to this point.

I'm not as keyed into the classical circuit as I used to be (esp. violin) and, as much as I love those artists, I'd be interested to hear of anybody new (or from that past) on the circuit that's made a great recording of those pieces.

Any recommendations?

Replies (100)

October 10, 2006 at 03:45 AM · Julia Fischer, Hillary Hahn, Rachel Podger

October 10, 2006 at 03:56 AM · Enescu's recording is actually quite excellent! Sergiu Luca is good if you want to hear a VERY baroque-period-practice recording (though I personally cannot stand his Chaconne.)

October 10, 2006 at 04:17 AM · I'd highly recommend Ilya Gringolt's recording. I'm still eagerly waiting for him to record the rest (hint hint). In addition, you might want to check out Christian Tetzlaff's and Arthur Grumiaux's. Rachel Podger's is truly amazing as well.

October 10, 2006 at 04:39 AM · As far as the younger recordings go, the best I have heard is Tetzlaff's new recording. In fact it's now my favorite recording. It kind of seems as if he straddles the line between romantic dramaticism and the simpler beauty that baroque players aim for, using each in it's most fitting manner, and pulls it off perfectly.

October 10, 2006 at 05:04 AM · Elizabeth Wallfisch. I can't take any of the rest of them anymore. I'd like to have Szerying's though I think. Augustin Hadelich's will be great when he gets around to it. Check out the Bach video at his website. You can try to find Kuijken's transcription of the d minor toccata and fugue which he claims was originally for violin. Since you're a guitarist, I think you'd like Eduardo Fernandez's lute suite #4 which is the E major partita transcribed by Bach. It's a great performance and it sounds like he's sitting in front of you.

October 10, 2006 at 05:26 AM · Any votes for Joseph Szigeti?

October 10, 2006 at 05:24 AM · I enthusiastically recommend hearing both of Milstein's recordings of the complete Unaccompanied Bach. The one he made in the late 1950s is on an EMI CD album. The one he recorded in the 1970s is on a DGG CD album.

October 10, 2006 at 05:42 AM · I have many of the famous recordings which I have loved for years: Milstein, Szigeti, Szeryng, Arthur Grumiaux, Shumsky, Tetzlaff, Zahatmair, Kremer, and others.

For me the one that comes close to Szeryng these days, is Hillary Hahn. I have heard her live many times playing Bach, and it is really "delicious"........:)

October 10, 2006 at 05:18 AM · Try the Zehetmair-recording once, a very inspiring approach with a strong baroque spirit and some experimental romantic dabs. It will give you many ideas of how to play it to prevent stuffiness or those chord massacres. You'll find some excerpts here.

October 10, 2006 at 07:45 AM · My favourite is probably Podger, apparently van Dael has the best authentic performance but I've only heard it once.

Szeryng is obviously a big favourite for me. If I had to rank which Bachs I listen to most often it would go;




I have the following Bachs as well:

James Ehnes

Hillary Hahn

Milstein (the 2nd recording)

Joseph Suk

Itzhak Perlman

Ruggierro Ricci

To be honest, I only really like the three I mentioned. The second part of my list are recordings I almost never listen to. James Ehnes is possibly my favourite violinist, but for me his Bach is very dissapointing. I think he did it very young and it doesn't rise to the level of say, his Mozart concertos.

Hillary Hahn is a beautiful palette of 300 different shades of gray. I'm trying to justify every single one but it's been so long since I listened to the Suk, Ricci or Perlman versions.

October 10, 2006 at 10:05 AM · Apparently van Dael's is best? I'm glad they voted and got that settled.

One thing about her is that I associated her with Leonhardt's sound as a conductor and when I heard her solo I was like wait where's Leonhardt? My strongest identification to Leonhardt was really her.

To me she's like Hahn is to Pieter maybe. Compared to van Dael, to me Wallfisch has deeper and more interesting things going on and isn't so dependent on a style or a sound to make it go. You can always hear new things in it, if you listen to it that way, which keeps it interesting. A lot of Van Dael is a really distinctive personal style I think, which sort of overrides all and doesn't appeal to me for long.

If you're new to Baroque music I don't know if I'd suggest any of them, unless they're really what you want to hear. Going through the Concentus Musicus recordings of the cantatas from one end to the other would probably be a lot more pleasurable really.

October 10, 2006 at 09:32 AM · I strongly second Mr. Steiner's Milstein recomendation.

October 10, 2006 at 12:03 PM · I love Grumiaux's version. (I also have Heifetz, Szeryng DG, Milstein EMI & Perlman to compare with).

October 10, 2006 at 01:19 PM · I grew up with the landmark Grumiaux set. Among more recent recordings, I've heard about, but haven't myself heard - Silverstein and Rosand. Has anybody heard these?

October 10, 2006 at 01:38 PM · Bob, I have Szigeti's recording and I LOVE it, but it's a bit strange. Delightfully, magnificently, wondrous strange, but strange nonetheless. :)

October 10, 2006 at 03:03 PM · You should not forget young Menuhin's. Listen if

you can his 1929 rec.of the third sonata, at 13

years old. A marvel.

October 10, 2006 at 06:36 PM · Julia's is wonderful the 1st, and when you return to it for the 15th time :)

October 10, 2006 at 07:29 PM · my fvorites in order are: milstein, perlman, ehnes, hahn, mintz, szeryng, grumiaux and podger

October 10, 2006 at 09:11 PM · Which Milstein? He recorded them twice...

October 10, 2006 at 09:37 PM · you can't go wrong with szeryng, grumiaux, or julia fischer's S&P recordings.

ilya's partitas are great and i wish he'd record and release the entire set.

October 10, 2006 at 09:50 PM · Thanks so much for all your replies.

Hmmm...looks like either my cd collection is going to increase dramatically (with a proportional decrease in the thickness of my wallet) or I've got some choices to make here.

Sounds like Podger and Hahn ("delicious" sounds tasty) are pretty popular with many of you here.

I have the Milstein '50s recording. So nice. And the Grumiaux/young Menuhin are two that sound like must hears.

Tell you the truth: I want every one of them. I WANT IT ALL!!!!

However; getting realistic, here; I'm also very interested in hearing some of the new, young artists, as well. Tetzlaff sounds interesting. I like that description: "romantic dramaticism and the simpler beauty that baroque players aim for". I LOVE Baroque music. If I had to choose a period of music to concentrate solely on("no...please!!"), that would be my choice.

Thanks, again, people. I've printed out all of your wonderful replies. And thank you, Jim Miller for the tip on Eduardo Fernandez's lute suite #4. That's a fantastic piece which really translates beautifully on guitar. I'm looking forward to hearing the recording. Nice sideline that I wasn't expecting.

This is a very nice discussion board :-))) Wish I could thank you all for your insights ("preventing stiffness in those chord massacres" is a good one)....but that would get pretty long.

Incidentally; as good as the Scheryng DG recordings are; the Odyssey, IMHO, really shines. If you haven't heard it; try to pick it up. A true gem.

October 10, 2006 at 10:27 PM · Hey, you're welcome. The first thing you'll notice about Eduardo is it sounds like he's making it up on the spot somehow (although he sticks to the score pretty much). I'm pretty sure I used to have Susanne Lautenbacher doing these. It would be interesting to hear those again. One set that I was going to look into recently was Rebekah Johnson, who's in the N.J. Symphony or something, but I never got around to it. I liked the part I heard.

October 11, 2006 at 12:56 AM · BTW, Mischa; I clicked on that link you set up for me. For some reason, my Windows Media Player isn't accepting the sound bytes. Oh well...I'll see what I can do to fix it up. Thanks.

October 11, 2006 at 03:30 AM · Why doesn't any recording companies/violinists make a DVD of Bach's solo for the violin? A few have already released Bach's solo for cello. No violinist bold enough?

October 11, 2006 at 03:59 AM · Garret Fischbach, violist with the Metropolitan Opera, has an excellent, very unusual recording of them.

October 11, 2006 at 04:34 AM · The amount of sales return on a Bach S&P DVD set would not warrant the amount of money sunk into the recording, marketing, and distribution. Of course, Lara St. John's DVD of the Bach S&P would outsell everything.

I've heard the Rosand S&Ps. It's very "Romantic", which is not to my taste. I prefer a more period instrument and dance take on Bach.

October 11, 2006 at 07:00 AM · Hey - Garrett is an old friend of mine - does anyone have his contact information? I've lost touch with him.

I'm downloading his Bach now :)

October 11, 2006 at 07:34 AM · Apart from the more popular choices (Milstein's and Szeryng's for examples), I also like Lubotsky's recording of the S&P. It sounds very neutral and natural to me. Some people may find Olevsky's playing too slow and his CD is certainly an interesting addition to any collection. I never liked Menuhin's recording of the S&P but somehow it is growing on me. Of the living violinists, my choices are Papavrami, Fischer and Hahn (not in any particular order).

October 11, 2006 at 10:59 AM · I love Zehetmair version. I think it should have to be a reference! Kremer and Gringolts are also really inspiring!

October 11, 2006 at 11:22 AM · Hi,

So many excellent versions mentioned. I would like to add one, which I like very much: the set recorded by Gérard Poulet. Beautiful playing - modern yet with ideas from performance practice, impeccable (intonation is almost bewildering in its precision).


October 11, 2006 at 02:10 PM · Once I get to the playing level of Milstein or Szeryng, I'll record the partitas on video and distribute them on YouTube.

October 11, 2006 at 06:50 PM · No-one mentions Heifetz, but I like his Bach recordings. They're unique!

OK. My favourites (in no particular order) are Szeryng, Milstein, Heifetz, Hahn and Julia Fischer.

October 11, 2006 at 10:29 PM · No Grumiaux, David Lillis?

October 11, 2006 at 10:35 PM · Greetings,

Kevin, I am sure oyu will get to that level fast, but even so you tube wil probably have gone for burton,



October 12, 2006 at 12:24 AM · I want to hear Zehetmair (have his Ysaye) and Poulet.

October 12, 2006 at 11:15 AM · I am interested in hearing the Gerard Poulet recording. Is it available ?

Also has anyone heard the second recording by Gidon Kremer ? How do you compare it to the 1980 recording ?

October 13, 2006 at 05:38 AM · I have Heifetz and Rosand. Two of my favorite violinists. Yes, I know, they play in a romantic style, but who cares? I like it.


October 13, 2006 at 06:26 AM · Greetings,

does anybody know why we actually call this playing `Romantic Style?`

This p@layignn presumably being sort of starrting with Kreisler /Elman /Heifetz. I cite these somewhat arbitrarily since there is clearly a disinction between this new type of sound and the preceding genertaions who utilized a differnet kind of sound and were therefore `less romantic` although this befuddles me too.

Is it because there is an asusmption that the style of palaing emreged from the mores of the Romantic era? But then -hy not- those players who were more chronologically present when Brahms and Wagner were doing there stuff? Why not expressionist/post expresisonist /cubist?

Does it really concern romance at all? Is Heifetz really a romantic violinist? More erotic I would have thought?

And are late 20c masters such as Perlman a sort of watered down romantic? Do their wives know or care?

And are we to say that todays players of cleaner (?) perhaps more stylistically concerned players are devoid of romance?

I remain puzzled,


October 13, 2006 at 07:17 AM · Buri,

as I understand it, generally, in poetry, romantic means concerned to express the personal emotion of the artist. By extension, in the arts in general, it refers to a personal expressiveness in playing that works against the other kind of ideal, the formal detachment of the classical.

In these terms I certainly would not have thought of Heifetz as romantic as he always seems to have a layer of reserve.

October 13, 2006 at 09:15 AM · Greetings,

based on Noel`s brilliance, I rest my case,



October 13, 2006 at 11:33 AM · Hi,

Buri and Noel - thank you for making such a great and important point!


October 13, 2006 at 04:42 PM · Is it not also true that we associate the term "romantic" in violin performance with the prominent use of vibrato, rubato, portamentos, and related technical devices that enhance the emotionally expressive qualities experienced in-the-moment by the musician and inherent in the music? (And isn't that an awfully pendantic way of saying that "romantic" also means playing with an obvious use of schmaltz?)


October 13, 2006 at 01:08 PM · Just to add my $0.02. When I hear someone talk about Romantic in the violin context, it is usually in contrast to period performance. As I understand it, period performance folks feel that the crucial thing is to perform the piece as the composer or musicians of the period would have performed it, without personal interpretation. Romantic imples, as Sander makes clear, use of certain techniques and phrasing that involve personal interpretation.

October 13, 2006 at 01:29 PM · One can have tremendous expression and individuality in period performance. It has nothing to do with being expressionless or robotic or impersonal.

I find most period performances of Bach, particularly in live concert where the warmth of real violin tone is not lost in the recording process, far more interesting than "Romantic" performances of that kind of music. I love the pure period violin tone unspoiled by ego and excess.

There are really no set ways on how to play period music. It's just a matter of personal preference.

October 13, 2006 at 01:51 PM · Bach solo works are polyphonic and this is a very arduous task to accomplish on the violin...I have all major violinists recording at home, including Szering, Milstein,Heifetz, Rosand, Perlman,Kremer, Grumiaux and more...

My favourite recordings are the ones made by Hilary Hahn and James Ehnes...These two violinists just prove that an important evolution in violin playing occured in the past few years...And I heard both artists live in Bach, and they are outstanding!


October 13, 2006 at 01:47 PM · Kevin--

You're absolutely right. I think what some of us object to in the period performances is the almost deliberate sterility which some performers have imposed on the process. That's the reason I've never gotten rid of my Ristenpart Brandenburg Concerti--it's alive throughout and endlessly interesting whereas many of the other performances that I've experienced seem to be a collection of disparate musicians playing beautifully and unimaginatively.

October 13, 2006 at 05:01 PM · "Romantic" has a different meaning in this context I think. If accepted period practices are 0 and Sarasate style is 10, it means anything greater than a 5.

October 13, 2006 at 05:06 PM · Thank you Kevin...I totally agree. Period performance does not have to be boring or emotionally detached.

October 13, 2006 at 06:26 PM · I love James Ehnes's playing but his Bach recording for me is quite dissapointing, as a lot of his left hand input is unnecessary. He can't decide if he's being decadent and playing it straight... he could be one of the best violinists to come from this continent in the last 100 years but I really can't listen too long to his Bach. I'm sure that he plays it differently live now.

October 13, 2006 at 07:29 PM · Peter: Ehnes is polyphonic, Heifetz is not...Ehnes made the best version available on the market since Grumiaux...His sound is full, rich and unforced...His bow technique, superior to all the others who attempted to record Bach. A long and sustained bow and a unique way of breaking the chords...His complete recordings of Bach solo works and sonatas for violin and hapshichord are one of the major events in the recording industry lately and are historical, in my opinion. They will last for ever and will be, with the recordings of Hilary Hahn a model of reference in the future...And both artists are able to perform to the highest level in concert, not only on recordings...


October 13, 2006 at 08:07 PM · Marc - I disagree with you on Hahn in concert. I found her Mozart sonatas very good but not that interesting (Shaham is better in concert on Mozart sonatas), and I thought her Bach Partita #2 was an unusual interpretation (very legato, brought out a haunting quality I had not previously heard) but I was not bowled over. She is enormously talented, but I am not ready to put her in the same class you do.

October 13, 2006 at 08:19 PM · She does not play like the typical Galamian-Delay violinist that we hear and hear over and over again since the past 40 years. Her style is "classical", her sound distinctive, the lines are pure and her musicality of the highest level...The greatest musicians and conductors of today all agree that Hilary Hahn is among the greatest now...She is a mature artist and her career is the most impressive of all, considering the few years she is on the road now...She accomplished a lot in such a short time.

October 13, 2006 at 09:24 PM · hilary hahn is an outstanding violinist.

maybe she should record a DVD of the bach S&P.

she could call it 'hahn solo.'

October 13, 2006 at 09:50 PM · Marc, for me playing in tune with a big rich sound (which are all technical terms) does not make for an interesting listening experience. I think Hahn's Bach is kind of boring, and unfortunately I believe Ehnes didn't do his best work on the Bach either. I have literally every recording of his so it's not as if I don't adore his playing. As for something that is major in the industry, I'd say Podger's recording is far more important than both of them, because I think she said something new in an accessible way. What Hahn and James did on their discs was what we've been hearing for 40 years, they just executed better. Now if Grumiaux is your standard for Bach, then I totally understand where you're comming. Bully for Ehnes without a doubt, but I don't think that playing Bach like you would play Brahms concerto is for me.

October 14, 2006 at 12:49 AM · When I have been acused of playing "too romantically" it has usually been when I use a technique "unsutable for the style" of the piece I am playing. This would include portamentos in Vialdi, excessive vibrato in Bach, in general not period performances. I still think Heifetz is a romantic violinist, because even though he did have a layer of reserve, his playing is individual and NOT a period performance (when he played Baroque music).


October 14, 2006 at 11:48 AM · Years ago I remember that someone (I forget who) made a recording of all of the Sonatas & Partitas using (supposedly) a curved Baroque bow. The performances weren't that great (as I recall), but the curved bow enabled the violinist to sustain triple and quadriple stops. At times it sounded more like an organ than a violin, and it brought out a very, very different way of experiencing these pieces. Anybody familiar with this recording, and anybody know if something similar has been done by others more recently?


October 14, 2006 at 12:40 PM · Sander--

The recording was a LONDON release with Emil Telmanyi. It is a rather boring affair to my ears. I found that the thumb tigger bow lost it's appeal long before the end of the first movement I heard. To me it saps the rhythmic soul from the fugues.

October 14, 2006 at 01:42 PM · Hi,

The Romantic/Non-Romantic argument is hard to sustain or explain. For example, Joachim's early recording of the Bach G minor Adagio is closer in spirit to the period performances than anything in between - little vibrato, virtually no portamenti, a steady pulse with rubato that seems to have been present in all periods of music. And yet, he is the only violinist from the Romantic period to have recorded it, though he was considered a classicist.

I do think that the argument of technical devices, mostly vibrato and portamenti in considering Romanticism, but again, we know that some baroque violinists used lots of vibrato (like Geminiani) while others disdained it (like Leopold Mozart). Music was far more regional then than now, so...



P.S. Poulet's recording is available still I think.

October 14, 2006 at 06:26 PM · Sander,

I know of van Dael, Podger, and Ilya using period bows (though I think Ilya's is transitional) on their Bach recordings.

October 14, 2006 at 06:20 PM · And what about Sandor Végh? His Bach is sensational.

Does anybody know Bretislav Novotny recording from Sonates and Partites? What´s your opinion?

However, my favourite recordings are those by Grumiaux, Suk and (in some moments) Milstein.

A few historical violinists recordered various Sonatas or Partitas, but not the set complete. I specially recommend to hear the 2nd Partita by Schneiderhan and the 3rd Partita by Francescatti.

October 14, 2006 at 06:57 PM · I have to add that in terms of live Bach, I heard Milstein several times live. But one of them was his last appearance in Chicago, at the age of 80. He played the 2nd Partita, and the Chaccone was not to be believed. It was the greatest solo Bach I've ever heard, recorded or live (and I dearly love Grumiaux, Szerying, and many others).

October 14, 2006 at 08:42 PM · Sander and Pieter--FWIW the 'Bach bow' invented by Emil Telmányi wasn't at all like real historical bows.

The design resulted from assumptions about how Bach's music was intended to be played, and rather loose interpretations of bows in paintings. It is tempting to think the hair tension lever was added because the basic idea didn't really work well alone.

More information, including a picture, may be found via the second link at the Wikipedia entry on Emil Telmányi.

October 14, 2006 at 11:20 PM · I wanted to mention that too. The trigger would take all the tension out of the hair so you could play four notes at once. It was a sort of gimmick, not to be confused with real baroque bows. Van Dael and Podger are using a baroque violin too, and Ilya I assume is using just the bow. I heard Rachel Barton using just the bow too.

The bow and the violin are under a lot less tension and bow pattern isn't standardized and the neck length of the violin was was about 1/2" shorter, which is why violins made before 1800 or so have grafted scrolls; the neck itself isn't original.




October 15, 2006 at 02:28 AM · With apologies for any appearance of pedantry:

Although it's true that most modern baroque players favor lower tension stringing, the research of Ephraim Segerman and Mimmo Peruffo has turned up a lot of evidence that stringing in the period was often in the same range as modern tensions.

As to bows, it appears that many modern 'baroque' bow copies may well be copies of transitional bows in 'baroque style'. The noticeably cambered examples at the Orpheon site seem to lean that way (although I have nothing but respect for Scott Wallace, who makes lovely bows and is a kind and generous human being to boot).

Also FWIW, baroque necks actually varied in length quite a bit and there are examples which are no shorter than modern necks. The usual figure given for how much shorter they were is less than 1/4" (i.e. 2-5 mm).

October 15, 2006 at 05:14 AM · Yes, I know the neck length varied. That's an interesting thing; especially since they would have us believe that so much of the design is formulaic. It would be interesting to know more about it. The 1/2" comes from a Harry Wake book, if I remember correctly. I pulled up the bow picture at random to illustrate how different they are in a general way to somebody who sounded about completely unfamiliar with them.

Christian, on the romanticism issue. Maybe a good definition in this context is how much it diverges from what the hardware of Bach's time would tend to give. You could probably think of performance practice as being secondary. In other words, how period correct could a piano ever be if the goal is to give the impression of an original performance? Well, a modern violin can try to imitate a baroque violin.

October 15, 2006 at 10:04 AM · Only one person has mentioned the rhythmic and lively recording by Schlomo Mintz, but I love it. Being a member of the sub species of the human race called Dancers may explain my preference for his unromantic interpretation. As I listened to his recording one day I actually thought 'This is what it would be like if I went to Heaven', then of course came the realisation that I was there already (and driving my car, hikes).

October 15, 2006 at 11:28 AM · First of all, hello to everyone! For me, after listening most of the "evoluted" versions mentioned here, it's still Milstein/EMI(?) and Szeryng/Odissey.And if it has to be "modern", my favorite is Dmitry Sitkovetsky. Strangely, I used the Heifetz set (even if I don't like the interpretation as a whole) as an example for polyphonic playing in the fugues/chaconne, now that I know better (Ehnes is polyphonic, Heifetz is not...hmmmm...) I'm completely lost! And if I listen Bach for pleasure (little weird, but can happen...) it's mostly Rabins C Major Sonata.

October 16, 2006 at 01:58 AM · I like Grumiaux's recording. The stuff he does is a little old-fashioned, but I love it. For the same reason that I like Janos Starker's recording of the cello suites.

October 15, 2006 at 03:58 PM · I also like Grumiaux' Bach for its simplicity and nobility. Podger's Bach is really interesting. I do prefer Bach with a steady beat since Baroque music is like rock (or should I say roque?) music.

October 15, 2006 at 04:28 PM · This thread is evolving very nicely.

I think one of the things that I love about the Scheryng Odyssey recording is that, at times, it does sound like an organ. There's a section in the Fuga Allegro/Sonata I (measures 34 through 41, I think...I'm listening to it right now and it's giving me chills) which just blows me away. Double stops and pedal tones. So powerful. And the lead in to it is just incredible.

A friend of mine, long ago (musicologist specializing in the Baroque period) told me a story about how, just before going in to record the pieces, Mr. Scheryng was introduced to a woman who's specialty was the interpretation of Bach's works. According to my friend, she asked him to play one of the movements. When he finished, she complimented his playing and then offered some suggestions on how to continue some of the lines through the tougher chord configurations, as well as using tonal/volume changes...you get the picture.

He postponed the session with Odyssey on the spot (think they liked that?) and worked with her for a few months before returning to the studio and putting together this masterpiece.

October 15, 2006 at 05:04 PM · If I may offer an insight into the concept of "Romantic" playing (violin imposter/guitarist that I am):

I was lucky enough to befriend a very well known violinist a while back, who considered himself to be a player of the "old school". He would say, "I tend to play in a more "romantic" way than many of the musicians of today."

He felt that a lot of the music coming out sounded like it was being played to a metronome. Too machine like for his taste. He felt that emotion was being left out of the equation.

Could that be what's being referred to as "romantic" in this thread? He was a very special player. I remember seeing him play Bach's First Partita. During the Sarabande he was literally crying and, needless to say; so was the violin. It was incredibly moving.

October 15, 2006 at 06:59 PM · Where can one buy Szeryng's recording with Odyssey?

October 16, 2006 at 04:07 AM · Bob, there are some baroque players whose playing is about as wildly 'free' as one could want. The above-mentioned Elizabeth Wallfisch would be hard to beat on that score.

The idea that baroque style is short on emotion is very much mistaken. Period tutorials stress expression and playing to engage 'the passions', etc., and there is a fascinating link to period ideas on speech and rhetoric.

The real difference between 'Romantic' playing and baroque style is one of accent, literally as between two regions or even two languages. The tools and conventions of expression are merely different.

Personally I could not ask for more emotional content than I find in Rachel Podger's playing, which tends to be very metrical, yet within that framework she 'speaks' the music with detailed inflection and the most agile localized expressive shaping. There is a wonderful tension in her playing between that expression and her comparatively rigourous adherence to meter.

Although I don't imagine this has a bearing on whether or not one likes baroque style, I begin to wonder whether there is not some link between musical taste and the inherent levels of response to stimulus different people have. There are studies which show some personalities 'wake up' at the slightest stimulus, and others have to be hit with a sledge hammer to get excited. This has some impact on what people do for fun, i.e. whether they have to go parachuting to get a buzz, or find a nice walk to be more their speed. ;-)

{Addendum for Bob--by the by and just to be clear, Ms. Wallfisch's interpretation is far too wild for my taste.)

October 16, 2006 at 01:47 AM · You touch on some very interesting (and funny) points there, Andre. I particularly like the the section about the use of accent to differentiate between the two styles.

I guess, when I speak about "romantic" playing, I'm not referring to the particular characteristics inherent in any period of music so much as the way my friend felt many of the players were interpreting music, in general, today compared to his own style of play.

Personally, I disagreed with him at the time. Alot of good that did me...but I'd heard too many wonderful performances to just sit there and nod my head. I'm glad to hear of Ms. Wallfisch in your response. Exactly the type of info I've been looking for since initiating this post.

I keep hearing about Ms Podger and Hahn in these responses...


I've had the vinyl of the Odyssey recording for years. Came upon the CD at Tower Records about 5 years ago. I'd gone on an all out search for it and lucked out. Tough to find.

October 16, 2006 at 12:30 PM · Thanks for the Addendum, Andres. I'm going to pick up the Podger, sometime this week...then probably move on to the Hahn, later.

October 16, 2006 at 12:56 PM · For me van Dael is still unbeatable, although I haven't heard Wallfisch. Szeryng and Grumiaux are amusing, the symbol of their time perhaps? I am yet to hear a version where the freedom of time(aka tempo) would be to my liking, but personal taste is a bitch, notoriously so.


P.S. Pieter, I was still using modern on my recording, although now I am using baroque...

October 16, 2006 at 01:56 PM · But you have still a bit to go Ilya.

All historical evidence shows that Bach did not have beard. That is why Huggett, Dael and Wallfish have succeded while Zehetmair ad some older russian ladies still have a bit to go. :-)

October 16, 2006 at 03:03 PM · Ilya,

then how were you doing those string crossings in the E+? I honestly thought I was hearing a curved bow. Whatever you used, I liked the idea behind it. You must have been working hard to do some of the right hand articulations one hears...

I haven't listened Szeryng in a while because I lost half of it, but I wouldn't call it amusing. I also wouldn't compare it to Grumiaux. Szeryng uses much less vibrato than most people think, and although he goes for a modern sound, I guess I have a tough time letting go of what has been beaten into my head.

Well if what else I listen to is an indication of what I like, I guess things are changing for me.

October 16, 2006 at 03:25 PM · I'm also not sure I'd call the old Szeryng and co. recordings "amusing". It's not as if they were being deliberately old-fashioned, nobody knew much about baroque period style back then. Might from a modern perspective disagree with their approach, but have to admire their gorgeous playing all the same. :) (Old-fashioned Bach is a guilty pleasure of mine.)

Although, there is one big juicy slide in the otherwise fantastic Milstein (1975) Chaconne that makes me giggle every time I hear it...

October 16, 2006 at 03:48 PM · It's all in the semantics.

Vibrato or no vibrato? Slides or no slides? Ornamentation or no ornamentation? Rhythm or no rhythm? Period or not period? As long as one is convinced of his interpretation, that is enough.

Similarly, "amusing" to me reads like "interesting" or "fun".

October 16, 2006 at 04:22 PM · Thank you Kevin. There is no "magic" to period instruments/authentic perfomance. They are not automatically better just by virtue of being more "authentic." The ultimate test IMHO is whether the interpretation moves you or works for you. Interestingly, I have a close friend in Paris who is an early musician, and his preferences for solo Bach seem to be Casals and Menuhin.

I also think it is not correct to say that not much was known about Baroque technique in Milstein/Szeryng's time. Szeryng's edition of the S&Ps contains a significant explanation of Baroque practice. In addition, Szeryng's explanations in the edition of how he treats different specific problems suggests what is most important: having an overarching view of what Bach was attempting to accomplish and a way of getting their interpretatively.

October 16, 2006 at 06:55 PM · The Brahms violin concerto was entirely played without vibrato by Joseph Joachim...The german romantic school rejected the use of the vibrato...Sphor disliked it...he even proposed a kind of vibrato with shades in bowing technique...

Szering never used the continuous vibrato, so it is normal that he uses less than the others in Bach...that was his style of playing...

There is a very interesting study about vibrato that was published a few years ago, suggesting that the "Italians" used it a lot during the baroque era...Geminiani, in a book published during his lifetime in London suggested to use it in a continuos way and as often as possible...Tartini the same (he marked the notes with a circle and suggested that it should be used even in fast passages)...

Paganini was using the vibrato all the time as mentionned in the essay "L'art de jouer du violon de Paganini"written by Carl Ghur in 1831...It is in that book that for the first time the "Nel cor più non me sento " set of variations were published , being a transcription of the music as played by Paganini.( there exist no original score of that piece)

So, one can understand why Sphor was shocked by the style of Paganini...Ysaie did emphasised on vibrato, but it was Fritz Kreisler who really reestablished it...

So, it seems that during the romantic era, german and french violinist played with little vibrato, the same way many play the baroque music today...



October 16, 2006 at 06:35 PM · Makes sense that the Italians would be most likely to use more-or-less continuous vibrato, sounds more like a bel canto voice and we know how much all Italian music is influenced by opera. :)

October 16, 2006 at 06:44 PM · ...must never forget how strong the influence of the "italians" was on J.S.Bach!!!

October 16, 2006 at 10:30 PM · Thanks for the short history of vibrato, Marc. Very interesting. I've always been against "autovibrato". It's one of the things I like about Scheryng. He's subtle.

I'm a big fan of Monica Huggett's playing, Mattias. Have a recording of the 6 Sonatas with Harpsichord that's a mainstay in my life. She's wonderful.

Illya: just out of curiosity; which recording of the Scheryng are you referring to (or is it both)? For me, the difference btwn the DG and Odyssey was profound. The DG was, to my ear, more 'excessive' and less thought out at times. It just seemed to lack the subtleties that I'd grown to appreciate in the first recordings.

October 16, 2006 at 09:48 PM · Ilya - I don't think Bach wanted total "time freedom" (e.g. rubato) as you believe. If you heard Menuhin (Allemande of the D minor Partita), surely you'd deem that as too much "time freedom". Grumiaux's Philips version deserves a good hearing - so do get a copy of that one. See you in Malaysia (I have put in a request to the DFP Hall to meet with you). Regards - Cheng

October 16, 2006 at 10:19 PM · Marc--are you thinking of Beverly Jerold's article on vibrato in The Strad magazine (March, 2005)?

That article is a rather skewed presentation of the issue. Jerold mischaracterizes L. Mozart and Roger North's positions, leaves out period descriptions of limited vibrato use (including Geminiani's own student Bremner, who called the pure tone 'bewitching'), and relies on a presumption about modern-style wide constant vibrato in period vocal technique which is contradicted by writers such as Thurston Dart and David Wulstan.

It's interesting to note that the British publisher of Geminiani's book suppressed the instruction to use vibrato "as much as possible". Clearly vibrato was approached in many different ways in the period, with many people using it solely as an ornament.

There's an interesting reference to Paganini from T. Dart: "Paganini's own manuscript markings in a copy of the Caprices direct the pupil to use vibrato only at specific points, and not elsewhere."

October 16, 2006 at 10:35 PM · Greetings,

one of my favororite violin quotes of all time was made by Van dael: `These days, when a player slows down we call it rubato. When a player speeds upwe call it rushing....`



October 16, 2006 at 10:40 PM · Buri, good quote! :)

Wait, Szeryng recorded the Bach twice? This I was unaware of...

October 17, 2006 at 12:33 AM · Maura - once for CBS & the other one for DG. Magnificent chord playing from Szeryng (DG) but the S&P do not "dance" as well as Grumiaux's.

October 17, 2006 at 02:00 AM · Mr Gringolts--

I find it fascinating that someone who has been exposed to the music business at first hand from the inside would make those comments about Szeryng and Grumiaux. AMUSING INDEED!! How many of your records do you think will still be played and studied 30+ years after your death? Do you know the meaning of chutzpah?

October 17, 2006 at 02:14 AM · Careful, Jay, Ilya has made some excellent recordings himself--I believe he just won a Grammy? I too was slightly surprised by his comment, but there's no need to belittle his own accomplishments.

October 17, 2006 at 02:59 AM · Greetings,

isn`t Ilya making CDs?



October 17, 2006 at 03:34 AM · Lay off Ilya. He's done nothing wrong.

"Amusing" doesn't necessarily mean "crappy". It can mean "whimsical" or "innovative" or "neat". Give Ilya the benefit of the doubt.

October 17, 2006 at 04:07 AM · Kevin,

Ilya likes it rough. He knows the safety word. As for the words of idiots, he's very resilient and I'm pretty sure he's guzzling some bottle of 40 minute old whisky he made in his brimey bathtub, laughing at all us ogglers. It's always hilarious that if I say something people here don't agree with, they tell me my 2 minute abortion of the Prokofiev is terrible. Big deal, right?

If Ilya says something they don't like, they don't hesitate to pretend they're Heifetz and deride his playing. I think people forget what stages he's been on, and his tremendous ability to not only play all the notes better than all the wannabes here, but his unique way of playing things we've all heard 3 zillion times, not to mention such a one of kind musical soul.

I'm no angel, but I can recognize when I'm out of my league. Maybe this is why good players don't often come here, and why we can count the number of people who've made themselves in this industry on one hand.

In any case, Ilya certainly doesn't need me to defend him. It's just that having met the guy at one point, and seeing that he's about arrogant as I'm a world class bagpipe player, it's just incredible to see the flak he gets from people who can scarcely breath as well as he plays.


Jay, you're hilarious. What do you charge per hour?

October 17, 2006 at 04:09 PM · Ilya,

Shows what I know about the current classical music scene, outside of the guitar world. You've got quite a reputation. Somehow I think I'll be finding that's true with some others on this site, too.

Just googled the Van Dael CD. Naxos. I love their recordings.

Could you tell me what it is you like about her style of play?

October 17, 2006 at 02:53 PM · Kevin - Ilya is an excellent musician but one of strong opinions. Given his previous posts about solo Bach and Szeryng, I do not read his use of "amusing" to mean whimsical. I suspect he may be using the term in the same way that a current scientist might describe the views of people in earlier times who believed the earth was flat as "amusing." However, I await his clarification.

October 17, 2006 at 01:12 PM · Andres,

It is a book I am refering to and it was published a few years ago by an English editor...I am not at home right now but I will give you the complete reference later ...


October 17, 2006 at 02:48 PM · Pieter,

I do not disgree with the baroque way of playing the violin...it is a complete different approach and still, there is a lot of improvement to do...Bach himself was probably aware that the violin was to take an important evolution... he performed on a piano forte for the first time in germany and his d minor piano concerto has been revised in consequence...

In my opinion, what is missing when Bach is performed on a baroque instrument is the harmonic tension. The result does not give an architecture of a great height...and this apply to Podger and many others...

When I spoke earlier about polyphonie, it does not mean playing double notes or chords...The entire e major prelude is polyphonic without any double stops...It is a very arduous task to make it sound polyphonic...It is more difficult to sustain the sound in the fugues or chaconne with long bow strokes...Bach was a hundred years in advance when he wrote his solo partitas and sonatas...He wrote them for future generations...

October 17, 2006 at 03:34 PM · Marc,

Amen. Treating Bach as time-bound misses what is visionary and genius about him. He would probably be appalled if he returned to the world today to find musicians trying to divine exactly how musicians of his era would have played the S&Ps.

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